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I Have Experience… Should I Still Go to PA Bootcamp?

Lonnie writes in:

I have two questions: First, what kind of help are you requesting for your new video? I’d like to be involved.

That’s easy. Since there have already been several TAPAs, I got the idea that we could all be TAPA. So, I’m asking a bunch of readers/listeners to record themselves giving the Kickstarter pitch.

Whether you do it on your cell phone or your Blackmagic Cinema Camera (which I know some of you bought on Amazon last summer), it doesn’t matter. It’ll be a kind of crowd-sourced video. Plus, you’ll be helping to get Crew Call Season 2 off the ground!

Second…I’m new-ish to this field. Started out doing quite a bit of work with some documentary film projects, I’m still doing those jobs, but also doing work with local TV stations. I moved to the SF Bay Area a couple of years ago, prior to that, I lived in a town with almost no opportunities to work in film. Anyway…my question…I am volunteering and doing freelance work, but I’ve been wondering if I should consider taking a PA bootcamp or training course. Are they worth the money…do they help PAs find work…and if so, which one(s) do you recommend?

Previous TAPAs have had some negative experiences with PA Bootcamps in the past. I’m a bit more ambivalent. I think there is some value in education, especially for people who prefer to learn in a structured environment.

But if you already have as much experience as Lonnie, you pretty much already know everything there is to know about PAing. At least, everything they could teach you in a weekend bootcamp.

The various bootcamps claim they can help you find work, but I honestly have difficulty believing that. The student-teacher ratio is something like a dozen to one, and some of them offer courses every single weekend. Even though most of the instructors are working ADs, there simply aren’t enough PA gigs to offer to that many students. Sure, the instructors know other ADs, as well, but again, their network can stretch only so far.

On the other hand, if you’re new in town or a recent graduate, that’s more of a network than you have right now.

Maybe someone who’s been to one of these camps could enlighten me in the comments as to what they do to help?

And, let’s not forget, you’re not just networking with the instructors. You’re meeting fellow PAs, as well. Networking with your peer group is vital, if you want your career to last.

Of course, you could network with your peer group for free at the next TAPArty (announcement coming soon).

I won’t recommend a specific bootcamp, because I’ve never been to one. (I didn’t know they existed when I started out.) But I will say, with a decent resume and some connections (like Lonnie should have formed working for free), I think most bootcamps would agree that you’re already as prepared as one can be.

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6 Responses

  1. I wrote this on another one of your pages. I am confused. Did any “anonymous production assistant” whoever you are or however many of you there are, seems like a few, did any of you ATTEND one of these “bootcamp” sessions?

    1. That time I said “I won’t recommend a specific bootcamp, because I’ve never been to one,” (you know, in the post you’re replying to)? That’s still true, lo these several days later.

  2. I took the PA Bootcamp program. Everything here from Nikki, is just how I feel.

    I took a PA Bootcamp and enjoyed it. Even though I had been on a couple sets as a “guest PA” (really helping my set dresser boyfriend with various tasks). I had come from owning a sign manufacturing business, knowing little about set protocol, the hierarchy, functions of a 2nd AD (a who?), or how not to step into someone’s functions.

    I learned a lot, got the gaps filled in, and I’ve worked with about a dozen others who took the Bootcamp, a few still breaking in but most steadily working.

  3. I feel like it’s worth the money to get the hands-on training. Being told what not to do/what to do, learning processes and procedures, given a method to handle release forms and other paperwork, inventorying walkies, reading a call sheet, making a call sheet, using the walkies, etc. all seems stupid — but the devil is in those details. As I watch other PAs unknowingly toss away great opportunities because they cannot guess what the set etiquette is (stamping their feet and huffing when told to get coffee/go on runs), I realize that training is necessary and definitely worth it.

  4. I took a PA Bootcamp and enjoyed it. Even though I had been on a couple sets as a “guest PA” (really helping my set dresser boyfriend with various tasks). I had come from owning a sign manufacturing business, knowing little about set protocol, the hierarchy, functions of a 2nd AD (a who?), or how not to step into someone’s functions.

    Of course the boyfriend asked: “why don’t you just ask me?” And the answer was, I didn’t know what to ask.

    I learned a lot, got the gaps filled in, and I’ve worked with about a dozen others who took the Bootcamp, a few still breaking in but most steadily working. I still get asked to work for free from being on the list of alumni and politely decline, send my resume & gently remind them I’d be happy to help for pay.

    I now have art dept experience and am learning from a brilliant PD who appreciated my professionalism, in addition to a large array of PA work.

    I was recently on set with a green PA who softly said “rolling”. It made me cringe. So, I let the key PA know.

  5. Not having worked as a PA since 1978, my experience is hardly relevant to the modern world, but I know a young film student who came to LA two years ago fresh out of school, hell-bent on getting his Hollywood career rolling. He knew nothing at all about working on a professional set, so he took the PA Bootcamp weekend course — the same one with which a previous TAPA engaged in a war of e-mails a few years ago. He found the course useful. If nothing else, learning proper on-set walkie-talkie etiquette (and how to change a battery) enabled him to feel much more comfortable on his first paid day on set as a PA. He also learned what would be expected of him on set, which isn’t always obvious to a brand-newbie fresh off the turnip truck.

    This young man said the course was worth the money, but that was just his experience — he came to Hollywood a blank slate, knowing nothing, and emerged from that class feeling more confident about his ability to perform on set. That comfort factor — and confidence — helped him get jobs. After a year of PA-ing, he decided on-set work was not for him, and managed to find a good full-time job in a film-related industry. Last I heard, he was doing great.

    If a new-to-town PA is already familiar with on-set (or in-office) protocols, walkie-talkies, and the responsibilities of a PA on the job, I seriously doubt any of the PA training programs would be worth the money. In that case, the only real value would be making contacts in a peer group, and that probably can be done more effectively working freebie jobs for the AFI or off Craig’s List.

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